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Accountancy body can finally exit legal services regulation

Probate: Compliance questions

The Legal Services Board (LSB) has granted permission for the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) to formally pull out of probate regulation.

The oversight regulator refused to let the ACCA exit [1] in January this year, concerned that members were practising unregulated after its regulatory regime shut down at the end of last year.

We first reported in August 2020 that the ACCA planned to withdraw [2] from legal services regulation, in the first move of its kind.

Last October, the LSB approved CILEx Regulation’s application [3] to take over the regulation of the members who wanted to continue handling reserved probate work, although they could seek authorisation from another regulator if they wanted.

But the LSB rejected ACCA’s application to be de-designated as a legal regulator because it did not have the agreement of a significant number of its probate practitioners and firms, whose authorisation expired on 31 December 2021, and had not been authorised by an alternative regulator, that they had ceased providing probate services.

ACCA reformulated its application and said it would consider private prosecutions for those who continued to practice reserved probate work without authorisation – a criminal offence under the Legal Services Act.

Meanwhile, it has set up a “formal mechanism” to ensure that details of any disciplinary action it took under its own rules and regulations were shared with other regulators and the LSB.

ACCA said it had checked the websites of 66 probate practitioners in February and found that 18 referred either to probate services and/or its authorisation. All 18 have since updated their websites.

However, the LSB said it had identified one website that “appeared to still be non-compliant” last month and reported this to the accountancy body.

ACCA responded by taking steps to ensure the website was updated, as well as providing the LSB with a list of the 18 firms that were non-compliant earlier in the year.

Firms which transfer to CILEx Regulation are known as CILEX-ACCA firms and are not allowed to hold client money or carry out estate administration, while individuals are called ‘CILEx Practitioner (ACCA-Probate)’.

The LSB said CILEx Regulation has identified three firms that may have breached the ACCA’s regulations during the transfer process. Two out of the three have remedied the breach, while the third case remained “open for investigation”.

ACCA continues to regulate members for general accountancy activities, while CILEx Regulation regulates them as employees and managers of CILEX-ACCA firms. The LSB said it was satisfied by measures put in place to mitigate against the risk of regulatory conflicts.

In a separate decision notice, the LSB approved the 2022 practising fees for those who have transferred to CILEx Regulation – £100 for individuals and £200 for firms.

This means that a sole practitioner will pay £300, more than the £262 charged by ACCA, and a two-partner firm £400, less than the previous fee of £524.

The LSB said that, as of April, 34 firms and 44 individuals had transferred, with a further 10 firms and 27 individuals expected to finalise their applications.

This would almost triple the number of firms regulated by CILEx Regulation to an expected 69, with a small increase in the number of individuals.